Now youre staying, help us, Nick

29 July 1999

‘Now you’re staying, help us, Nick’

By Johann Tasker

AGRICULTURE minister Nick Brown has kept his place in the cabinet reshuffle – but producers say he must now do more help them ride out the farming crisis.

Mr Brown, who succeeded Jack Cunningham as agriculture minister last July, now looks set to stay in office at least until the autumn, say commentators.

Most farmers agree that Mr Brown is a good listener, but one year after his appointment, they say the government must now do more to help the industry.

For many producers, little has changed since last September when Staffordshire farmer David Bailey confronted Mr Brown at Labours Blackpool conference.

In a memorable emotional encounter, with tears running down his face, Mr Bailey begged the agriculture minister to help him stay in business.

Ten months later, little has changed. Mr Bailey is resigned to selling up and has already sold two-thirds of his pedigree cattle.

“Im still in business simply because my farm didnt sell at auction a fortnight ago,” he told Farmers Weekly.

Any joy over the lifting of the beef ban is outweighed by the end of the calf processing scheme, charges planned for cattle passports, and the ongoing spread of bovine TB.

“Lifting of the beef ban has done nothing,” said Mr Bailey, who is convinced that MAFF is a low priority when it comes to government expenditure.

“Nick Brown may say hes going to do this, that and the other, but the whole Labour government is tying his hands behind his back.”

That sentiment is echoed by Peter Gadd, a farmer from Stragglethorpe, Nottinghamshire.

Mr Gadd was one of 40,000 farmers who brought Brussels to a standstill when European farm ministers began talks to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

Four months after the reforms were finalised, Mr Gadd feels arable farmers were sold short by a watered-down deal agreed afterwards by European heads of government.

“The long-term future for farming doesnt seem to hold any more prosperity than it did when Nick Brown came into office,” he said.

Similar thoughts come from Christopher Monk, head of farming with rural business consultants Strutt & Parker.

Mr Monk wrote recently that family farms with fewer than 120 cows were at risk from a shake-out in the dairy sector and the unrelenting fall in milk prices.

“Hes a good listener, a good mixer but short on action,” he said. “Im sure he understands the problems with farming but his biggest challenge is yet to come.”

Pig farmers, who received no direct subsidies from the government, are less critical.

Mr Brown eventually supported their “Buy British” campaign by writing to other government departments to buy British-specification pork.

But he might have acted faster, said Stewart Houston, who helped organise a protest march by thousands of pig producers on Downing Street in January.

“I certainly think hes been better than Cunningham, but I dont think he grasped the urgency of our problems,” he concluded.

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